January 13, 2003
Posted at: 9:30 a.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas legislators begin their biennial attack on state poverty and poor-quality education on Monday. The 84th General Assembly convenes at noon.
Many experienced legislators have been cleared from the House and Senate due to term limits, and new members will be getting acquainted with each other as well as with how to move bills through the system.
Jim Holt of Springdale, who is to move from the House to the Senate today, predicts the session will be full of passions. The constitution requires a 60-day regular session but the past three have averaged more than 90 days.
Governor Huckabee predicts this session will follow recent history and be a long one.
In November, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state funding formula for public schools as unconstitutional. The court ordered the state to put more money into schools and to distribute it fairly among the districts. Some experts have estimated it could cost up to $1 billion per year to address the court's concerns.
Huckabee and many legislators are already talking about a special session to overhaul the education system, but they expect education to be a the primary topic in the regular session as well.
Other concerns at the top of the list are budget shortfalls, economic development, prison overcrowding, tort legislation to limit civil damage awards, and Medicaid, which pays for health care for low-income, disabled or elderly Arkansans.
The Legislature must work up a $7 billion budget that already falls short of meeting the needs and far short of meeting the demands.